My roller-coaster relationship with my junior high school son often leaves me dizzy, confused and nauseous.
Phillip celebrated his 12th birthday earlier this month. Not even a week later, I have yet to walk that sober line to his bedroom and discuss our relationship.
While I’ve struggled this past year with his changing voice, ridiculously large feet, smelly body odor and asymmetrically furry upper lip, it is his withdrawal from me which hurts the most.
Phillip was born a Mama’s boy, not a scary-slacker-never-leave-home Mama’s boy. He’s always preferred my arms to soothe, my kisses to heal, my hands to hold. I didn’t realize how important our relationship was to me until it morphed into this unrecognizable, awkward thing which currently exists between us.
When he was younger, Phillip was always attached to me. His entire body embraced mine as he used to wind his little limbs around me until I peeled him off. Now, he no longer hugs me or acknowledges me when other people are around. When we are alone and he hugs me, it is a quick, one-armed-wrap-around that you would give to your scary, stinky, creepy uncle because your mother made you.
Phillip used to confess everything to me. He would walk through the front door and talk like he was hosting a telethon. His bushy old-man eyebrows would waggle as his sweet voice, which frequently dropped the letter “r” sound, changed with each imitation. He would act out stunts other kids performed on the playground. Nowadays, the only way I know he even attends school is because I stalk his grades and attendance on our school district’s Home Access grading system.
I know I’m the adult in our parent-child relationship, but it seems most days I’m a junior high school girl begging for his attention. I raucously laugh at all of his lame jokes. I find little excuses to touch his hair or brush his hand or clean his glasses - just so I can take them off his face and gaze into his inquisitive gray eyes.
Sometimes at night, when the house is still and the world is dark and quiet, Phillip sneaks out of his room to find me and whispers in his man-child voice, “Rub my back, Mama.” He hesitantly lifts the back of his shirt, presses the side of his body against mine, and makes another request. “Can you sing Sunshine to me?”I nod, blink away the tears pooling in the corners of my eyes, gingerly rub his back and softly sing to him. I pretend my gossamer touch will transport us both to the days when I was his favorite person, his confidant. And it does for a few minutes until Phillip leaves me heart-broken all over again.
He teases me with miniscule glimpses of the little boy I adored and quickly switches back into the grumpy, secretive man-child-tween he is now.
Last week, Phillip came downstairs in the morning before either of his siblings had emerged from their bedrooms. He noticed me writing at the computer and placed one of his man-hands on my shoulder and asked if he could make eggs for breakfast. I agreed and smiled with pride at his new independence. And then the most magical, wonderful thing happened – Phillip brought me a plate of scrambled eggs, a fork and a napkin. And I cried and ruined the moment and his delicious eggs.
My mother’s heart can’t take his indecisiveness and this heightened level of uncertainty, especially when I would give everything I possess to have him stay my little boy forever.
I’ve known this time was approaching. I’ve known it was inevitable, but it still hurts all the same. I live in a state of constant confusion, and chaos screws with my irrational need for order. I know that I need to give him his space while he navigates his ever-changing world, but I’m confused about what he needs from me, what I can give to him to ease his burden.
Because I am his mother, his Mama, I will push forward on this awful roller-coaster transition ride. I’ll live in the precious minutes when my sweet, adoring little boy emerges. I’ll treasure the times in between when I glimpse the responsible, caring man he is becoming. And I will carry tissues in my pockets for those in-between-times when he pulls me closer, only to push me away.
Dear Son, I love you. I adore you. Your name is forever tattooed into every staccato beat of my heart. Please, oh, please figure this out soon and stop teasing my mother’s heart. And always remember that the space between my arms will always be your home.